For more than a year now, I’ve received many emails about how to “get the most out” or “take advantage” of a Gigabit Internet connection — one that can deliver up to 1000Mbps of download speed. Well, first of all, if you have that, good for you! Don’t count me in just yet.
In fact, I’m jealous. Mine is barely 250 Mbps download. It used to be over 300 Mbps for a long time until Comcast jacked up my bill just last month, and my wife made me pick food over bandwidth, or else. Anyhow, it was a long story.
(Update: Since I last published this post, I’ve convinced the lady to up our connection speed to a 600Mbps down/15Mbps up plan. So, I’m getting close.)
But for years, I have had some business partners with Gigabit (and even faster) Internet. So when I say I know how it feels to have a super-fast broadband connection, I speak from experience. That said, I’ll answer all of your questions and concerns in this post.
Dong’s note: I first published this piece on April 4, 2020, and updated it on December 14, 2020, to add additional relevant information.
Gigabit Internet: Why you likely won’t experience it in full
The most common questions I got are along the lines of “I only get this much speed on my laptop and that much on my iPad. What is up?”
Let me break it to you right away. Just because you have Gigabit Internet doesn’t mean you’ll experience it on every, or any, device. In fact, that’s almost always the case. There are more reasons why you won’t than otherwise.
Here are some of them.
Gigabit is the baseline
First, that’s because Gigabit is the baseline of your home network infrastructure. Specifically, chances are your networking equipment, be it your router, your switches, your modem, and so on, caps at 1Gbps.
When that’s the ceiling speed, you can’t expect it to be the actual speed. That’s the same as you can’t expect to ride at the top speed of your Tesla at all times — even if you don’t care about speed limits.
Even though wired connection tends to have little overhead, it doesn’t deliver 100 percent efficiency. So a 1Gbps wired connection generally sustains at somewhere between 800 Mbps to 950 Mbps.
As a result, you need to wait till all of your equipment support Multi-Gig (2Gbps or faster) or at least Gig+ (that’s between 1Gbps and 2Gbps) to have actual Gigabit Internet locally.
Secondly, even when your provider delivers, the broadband speed is only accurate at the modem — the point where it enters the property. Right after that, it’s now shared between all devices in your home.
So, say, if you have two devices doing two file downloading jobs, then each only gets half of the bandwidth. And the more clients are actively at the same time, the lower the number at each of them.
That’s why, if you want to know how fast your connection truly is, there’s quite a bit of work to figure it out. In any case, you’ll note that your test scores tend to vary from one test to another.
Most of the Internet itself is sub-Gigabit
Next, you should consider that the speed you pay for is between your home and the provider. And just because you’re spoilt doesn’t mean the rest of the world is, too.
So, for example, when you access a service or website that has a sub-Gigabit connection or sending a file to your friend directly, the speed between the two of you will be that of the slower party.
That’s the case of any network connection. The cap connection speed between a pair is always that of the slowest party involved.
In other words, if you do a speed test and the test server is slower than 1Gbps, then its speed will be your result. And that can happen because almost anyone can set up a test server these days.
(By the way, this type of server needs a fast upload pipe, and that of mine caps at only around 15Mbps.)
So you can truly enjoy Gigabit-class broadband only when Gigabit is true in the entire Internet as a whole, or at least the part you use. And that will take a while.
Your Wi-Fi is no Gigabit
The top-connection-speed-is-that-of-the-slowest-party notion applies to your local network, too. And more likely than not, your Wi-Fi’s sustained rate is slower than 1Gbps.
That’s because Wi-Fi has crazy overhead. A negotiated (ceiling) speed of 1.7Gpbs (4×4 Wi-Fi 5) generally averages about 900Mbps of actual throughput. Now that’s fast, but it’s no Gigabit.
And though you sure can get a souped-up router, keep in mind that most mobile devices have a 2×2 Wi-Fi 5 adapter, of which the theoretical speed (867Mbps). That’s sub-Gigabit from the get-go.
It’s worth noting that even when you use Wi-Fi 6, which is currently also only available at 2×2 on the client-side, you’ll get the negotiated speed of 1.2Gbps unless you can use the 160 MHz channels, which are not available in many cases.
In short, chances are your current local sustained Wi-Fi speeds range between 200 Mbps to 900 Mbps at best. That’s fast, but no Gigabit.
You don’t need Gigabit Internet
That’s right! Generally, we don’t need Gigabit Internet. Most online applications require much less than that to work correctly. They won’t even use more bandwidth when it’s available.
Take streaming, one of the most bandwidth taxing tasks, for example. You probably only use 30 Mbps at most per a 4K stream. So faster Internet doesn’t yield any difference.
There are very few applications in which the faster is better. In my experience, file downloading is about the only one.
But even then, ask yourself, how often you need to get a ton of data at once? That’s not to mention most ISPs put a monthly data cap on your plan — that of Comcast is 1.25TB.
But let’s say you need to download a few gigabytes, that’s a full-featured 4K movie, at a time, that’d take around 30 seconds over a Gigabit connection. I’m sure you can find a few things to do while waiting, like taking a few deep breaths.
So, Gigabit Internet and super-faster Wi-Fi routers are overrated?
Definitely not. It’s great to have super-fast connections.
That’s because chances are you don’t use them alone. Even if you live alone, you likely have more than one device. The faster the speeds, be it locally or the Internet, the more devices connect at the same time, at their highest possible rates.
Again, take streaming as an example — a Gigabit connection will allow a few dozen devices to view 4K content from Netflix at a time. And that’s nice.
But it’s true that, unless you have a big family, after a certain point, faster connections don’t yield anything extra. It’s now just a luxury.
What router or mesh system should I get if I have Gigabit Internet and want to get the most out of it at all times?
If you live in a small home and only need a single router, make sure it’s one that can handle the fastest possible Wi-Fi speed. So get a router that has 4×4 specs on a single band.
Better yet, consider a tri-band router. That’s because Wi-Fi bandwidth is shared, so the more bands a router has, the more concurrent clients it can handle without slowing down.
Also, consider a router that has built-in multi-Gigabit network ports. Again, you need to increase the home network’s infrastructure to multi-Gig before you can enjoy your Gigabit broadband in full.
On the other hand, if you have a large home and need a mesh Wi-Fi system, it’s a good idea to wire your house with network cables. That’s the only way to bring a fast data connection to every room.
Then get a mesh system with high ceiling bandwidth. If running network cables is not possible, a tri-band system is a must. That said, definitely consider one of these Wi-Fi 6 systems.
So slower Wi-Fi is no good for Gigabit Internet?
Not necessary. As I mentioned above, you only need the Internet speed fast enough for the application at hand. And almost all Wi-Fi 5 and Wi-Fi 6 routers are more than fast enough to deliver any broadband needs.
That said, there’s no need to go overboard with the fastest router on the market. Get one that has enough bandwidth for everyone in your family.
How to figure out the needed Wi-Fi bandwidth
Here’s simple math in figuring out which router is good enough.
Take two-thirds of the total 5GHz bandwidth of a router, and that’s its ballpark sustained local speed. Now divide that number by your family members to get an idea of how much bandwidth each will get when all of you are online at the same time.
For example, the Asus RT-AX86U has the top speed on the 5GHz band of 4800 Mbps, meaning you can expect a sustained bandwidth of 3200 Mbps. So if you have four in your family, each will get an allotment of 800 Mbps.
That doesn’t mean all of you will connect at that speed, or even close, but you’ll have an idea of everyone’s portion of your network’s capacity. Also, note that you can also use the router’s 2.4GHz for some extra bandwidth.
By the way, 800 Mbps is way more than anything you’d need for Internet access, so the RT-AX88U can easily handle a house of dozen or so members and still give everyone speedy access.
How fast is your broadband compared with others on Dong Knows Tech?
So how fast is your broadband on your device right now? Take a quick test below. And feel free to share what you find out in the comment section below.
If your numbers aren’t anywhere close to Gigabit, you’re not alone. Below are the average speeds of others who have taken this same test above in the past couple of days from around the world.
While the numbers don’t represent the entire Internet, one thing is for sure: We’re still a long way to go before true Gigabit broadband.
Having Gigabit-class Internet access probably feels like you’ve moved up in the world. Enjoy it! You’re among the lucky few, as long as you don’t pay too much for it.
Keep in mind that if you don’t get the full speed on your specific device for one reason or another, that only means there’s more bandwidth left for others in your home.
Like a race car, a fast broadband connection gives you more options. In reality, as long as you’re already moving at the rate you need, the actual speed numbers don’t matter much.
That’s unless you want to brag. In that case, look at my numbers again. I’ve been uploading all of what you’re reading here on this website via a 15Mbps or slower connection. And chances are I won’t be any more productive when/if I get a Gigabit connection.
So, I will say this: It’s not how fast your connection is, but what you do with it. It’s the rider, they say. And that makes me feel pretty good about not having Gigabit Internet yet.